July 22, 1937 – U.S. Senate Rejects FDR’s Court-Packing Plan

On February 5, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt unveiled the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which proposed adding one new judge to the federal judicial system for every active judge over the age of seventy. The result would create fifty new judgeships, including up to six new Supreme Court justices.

Roosevelt had been frustrated with the US Supreme Court’s treatment of some of his economic reforms. During his first term, the Supreme Court had struck down several New Deal measures intended to bolster economic recovery during the Great Depression. The President’s plan would allow him to appoint new judges friendly to his administration, although FDR couched it in terms suggesting that he was trying to streamline the Court system and ease its caseload.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The plan caused an uproar from legislators, bar associations, and the public. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill, and subsequently failed to report it favorably out of committee.

On February 8, 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider President Roosevelt's request to increase membership on the Supreme Court.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

On February 8, 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider President Roosevelt’s request to increase membership on the Supreme Court.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

The full Senate began debating the measure in July, and on this day in history – July 22, 1937 – the U.S. Senate rejected the proposed plan by a vote of 70-20. 

Nevertheless, FDR managed to get what he wanted eventually by serving twelve years in office, which enabled him to appoint eight justices to the Court.

You can listen to FDR’s “fireside chat” on March 9, 1937 in which he discusses the court packing proposal, here.

June 15, 1877 – Death of Caroline Norton, English Women’s Rights Activist

Caroline Norton, nee Sheridan, was born in London in 1808, and in 1827 married George Norton, a barrister and M.P. According to a history of the fight for women’s rights at the time, her husband was jealous, possessive, and given to violent fits of drunkenness during which George was abusive.

Caroline left him in 1836, trying to subsist on her earnings as an author. George successfully sued for these in court as his own, since husbands had control over their wive’s money. Caroline exacted a condign form of revenge, as reported by a biography by Jane Gray Perkins. Running up bills in her husband’s name, Caroline told the creditors that if they wished to be paid, they could sue her husband.

Caroline Norton (1808-1877)

Not long after their separation, Norton abducted their sons, hiding them with relatives in Scotland and later in Yorkshire, refusing to tell Caroline where they were. Norton accused Caroline of being involved in an ongoing affair with her close friend, Lord Melbourne, who was the Whig Prime Minister. Norton then tried unsuccessfully to blackmail Melbourne, and when that scheme failed, took the Prime Minister to court.

The trial lasted nine days, and in the end the jury threw out Norton’s claim, siding with Lord Melbourne. However, the resulting publicity almost brought down the government. The scandal eventually died away, but Caroline’s reputation was ruined and her friendship with Lord Melbourne destroyed. Norton continued to prevent Caroline from seeing her three sons, and blocked her from receiving a divorce. According to English law in 1836, children were the legal property of their father, and there was little Caroline could do to regain custody.

Having no other recourse, Caroline became involved in advocating the passage of laws promoting social justice, especially those granting rights to married and divorced women.

When Parliament debated the subject of divorce reform in 1855, Caroline submitted to the members a detailed account of her own marriage, and described the difficulties faced by women as the result of existing laws.

Primarily because of Caroline’s intense campaigning, which included a letter to Queen Victoria, Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, and the Married Women’s Property Act 1870.

Under the Custody of Children Act, legally separated or divorced wives – provided they had not been found guilty of criminal conversation – were granted the right to custody of their children up to the age of seven, and periodic access thereafter. However, because women needed to petition in the Court of Chancery, in practice few women had the financial means to petition for their rights. [Per the UK Parliament, the Infant Custody Act of 1873 changed the direction of the 1839 Act by indicating that the correct principle for deciding custody was the needs of the child rather than the rights of either parent. The Act therefore allowed mothers to petition for custody or access to children below the age of 16, but not in all circumstances.]

The Matrimonial Causes Act reformed the law on divorce, making divorce more affordable, and established a model of marriage based on contract.

The Married Women’s Property Act 1870 allowed married women to inherit property and take court action on their own behalf. The Act granted married women in the UK, for the first time, a separate legal identity from their husband.

While Caroline fought to extend women’s legal rights, she had no interest in the 19th-century women’s movement for women’s suffrage. She even stated in 1838 in a newspaper article,

The natural position of woman is inferiority to man. Amen! That is a thing of God’s appointing, not of man’s devising. I believe it sincerely, as part of my religion. I never pretended to the wild and ridiculous doctrine of equality.”

Caroline finally became free of George Norton with his death in 1875. She married an old friend, Scottish historical writer and politician Sir W. Stirling Maxwell in March 1877. Caroline died in London three months later.

April 22, 1864 – Congress Passed an Act Allowing “In God We Trust” to be Engraved on U.S. Coins

As a Treasury Department website reports, during the Civil War, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country to “recognize the Deity on United States coins.” As one petitioner argued, “You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation?”

Heaven forfend!

As a result, in a letter dated November 20, 1861, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto:

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.”

In December 1863, the Director of the Mint submitted designs for new one-cent coin, two-cent coin, and three-cent coin to Secretary Chase for approval. He proposed that upon the designs either OUR COUNTRY; OUR GOD or GOD, OUR TRUST should appear as a motto on the coins. In a letter to the Mint Director on December 9, 1863, Secretary Chase responded that he thought the words should read “IN GOD WE TRUST.”

Congress passed legislation allowing for the change on this day in history.

“IN GOD WE TRUST” first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

You can read the text of the act here.

Later, Congress passed additional coinage acts to expand the coverage of the first.

March 8, 1922 – Birth of Ralph Baer, “Father of Video Games”

Ralph Baer, born on this day in history, was an engineer who conceived the idea of playing games on a television screen around 1966.

Baer was born in Germany, but his family, experiencing discrimination for being Jewish, moved to New York City in 1938, just prior to the ban on Jewish emigration. (The Nazis did not want Jews to leave; they preferred to confiscate their assets and then kill them.) Baer later became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Ralph Baer

At first, Baer worked in a factory for a weekly wage of twelve dollars. After seeing an advertisement at a bus station for education in the budding electronics field, he quit his job to study at the National Radio Institute. In 1943 he was drafted to fight in World War II and assigned to military intelligence at the United States Army headquarters in London. Having his secondary education funded by the G.I. Bill, Baer was able to graduate in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree in in television engineering – unique at the time – from the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago.

Baer worked his way up in several engineering companies, eventually joining defense contractor Sanders Associates in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1956, where he stayed until retiring in 1987. Baer’s primary responsibility at Sanders was overseeing about 500 engineers in the development of electronic systems being used for military applications. Out of this work came the concept in 1966 of a home video game console.

Ralph Baer shows the prototype of the first games console. Credit: Jens Wolf /DPA /Landov

According to his 2014 New York Times obituary, an intrigued boss gave him $2,000 for research and $500 for materials and assigned two men to work with him. Baer developed a number of games that became part of his ‘Brown Box’ – a multi-game console. The games included ping-pong, handball, soccer, volleyball, target shooting, checkers, and golf.

In March 1971, Mr. Baer and his employer filed for the first video game patent, which was granted in April 1973 as Patent No. 3,728,480. It made an extraordinarily large claim to a legal monopoly for any product that included a domestic television with circuits capable of producing and controlling dots on a screen.

Sanders Associates licensed its system to Magnavox, which began selling it as Odyssey in the summer of 1972 as the first home video game console.

NPR explained:

The primitive system was all hardware and used “program cards” for games. Plastic overlays for the television screen provided color. Priced at $100 (though Baer had recommended $19.95), the Odyssey sold more than 100,000 units its first year and 300,000 by 1975.”

The Magnavox Odyssey — derived from Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box” invention — was sold as the first home video game system in 1972. Credit: Rich Strauss/National Museum of American History

In his 2014 obituary, the New York Times recounted:

Several months after Odyssey hit the market, Atari came out with the first arcade video game, Pong. Though Pong became better known than Odyssey and was in some ways more agile, Sanders and Magnavox immediately saw it as an infringement on their patent.

They sued Atari in 1974 for usurping their rights. Atari settled with them by paying $1.5 million to become Odyssey’s second licensee. Over the next 20 years, Magnavox went on to sue dozens more companies, winning more than $100 million. Mr. Baer often testified.”

The Times also noted that “Mr. Baer’s contraption represented the beginnings of a change in man’s relationship with machines.”

In 2006, Baer was a recipient of the National Medal of Technology by President George W. Bush. Baer was also admitted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010. He donated much of his collection of early video game prototypes to museums, including the Smithsonian Institution. Baer died at his home in Manchester, New Hampshire on December 6, 2014 at age 92.

The value of the video game market in the U.S. in 2020 was calculated to be 60.4 billion U.S. dollars. Statista.com also shows the incredible growth of the worldwide market.

Via Statista.com

March 5 – National Absinthe Day & Legal History of Absinthe

Absinthe is a green alcoholic beverage that takes its name from Artemisia absinthium, the botanical name for the bitter herb wormwood, known in French as ‘Grande absinthe’. The essential oils in wormwood contain the chemical Thujone, which is a toxin when taken in large amounts. [Wondering how to pronounce Thujone? A video on the pronunciation is here.] Thujone is said to be responsible for Absinthe’s alleged mind-damaging properties. (Another factor might be the high-level of alcohol contained in Absinthe, typically between 53 and 74%.)

Wormwood (scientific name Artemisia absinthium L.)

To be considered “Absinthe,” the spirit must contain not only wormwood, but also green anise and sweet fennel. But absinthe may contain other plants, including coriander, hyssop, gentian, licorice root, lemon balm, and star anise, inter alia. Absinthe is most often described as having the flavor of licorice, with a bitter aftertaste. The drink was created at the end of the 18th Century, and a distillery was opened in 1797 by Henry-Louis Pernod. Colloquially, the drink is also known as Queen of Poisons, The Green Fairy, The Green Goddess, and The Emerald Muse.

The Absinthe Drinker (Shown with the Green Fairy) by Viktor Oliva, 1901

Originally, absinthe gained its popularity from its use in North Africa during the French military campaigns of the 1840s as a disease treatment and water purifier. The French soldiers brought their taste for it back to the cafés of Paris. [The French also brought syphilis to Italy in the 16th Century but I digress.] From the mid 19th century onwards absinthe became associated with bohemian Paris and was featured frequently in the paintings of such artists as Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso. When they were not painting it, they were drinking it in large quantities.

As the BBC reports:

“During the Belle Époque, the Green Fairy . . . was the drink of choice for so many writers and artists in Paris that five o’clock was known as the Green Hour, a happy hour when cafes filled with drinkers sitting with glasses of the verdant liquor. Absinthe solidified or destroyed friendships, and created visions and dream-like states that filtered into artistic work. It shaped Symbolism, Surrealism, Modernism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism. . . .

Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Émile Zola, Alfred Jarry and Oscar Wilde were among scores of writers who were notorious absinthe drinkers. . . . They wrote of its addictive appeal and effect on the creative process, and set their work in an absinthe-saturated milieu.

Contemporaries cited absinthe as shortening the lives of Baudelaire, Jarry and poets Verlaine and Alfred de Musset, among others. It may even have precipitated Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear.”

L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas

Absinthe supplanted wine as the French national beverage during the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century, which destroyed most of France’s vineyards. By 1905, there were hundreds of distilleries in all corners of France producing absinthe. Its success inspired many imitators, who soon introduced cheaper, adulterated and even poisonous imitations onto the market. These adulterated versions were in turn partially responsible for the reputation that absinthe gained for causing delirium and madness in those who drank it. It has also been speculated that the bad effects of poorly-made absinthe were trumped up by French vintners in an effort to rid themselves of a dangerous economic rival.

The Absinthe Drinkers by Edvard Munch

Blamed for causing psychosis, even murder, by 1915 absinthe was banned in France, Switzerland, the US and most of Europe. “The green muse” was eventually banned in most countries beginning in 1908. The United States outlawed it in 1912. Pernod and other companies came out with new, lower alcohol content, wormwood-free, licorice-anise flavored liqueurs to replace Absinthe, with names such as Pernod, anis, anisette, pastis, ouzo and raki.

The Absinthe Drinker by Édouard Manet

Absinthe is now legal again in the European Union. Cheaper varieties use a mix of herbal oils added to diluted alcohol. The better, more traditional and more expensive varieties are made by macerating wormwood, green anise and fennel together in 80-90% alcohol, infusing it with other herbs, then distilling the result.

The Absinthe Drinker by Picasso

Absinthe is usually served with a mixture of 3 to 5 parts water to one part liquor, added to the glass over a slotted spoon. The spoon holds a sugar cube over the glass while the water is dripped slowly into the absinthe. (Sugar will not dissolve in the 68% to 72% alcohol of neat absinthe so spoons are used to suspend the sugar over the glass while it dissolves in the water that poured over it.)

Absinthe spoons, Wikipedia

As of October 2007, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved the use of the term “absinthe” on the label of a distilled spirits product and in related advertisements only if the product is “thujone-free” pursuant to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations. Absinthe containing thujone levels greater than 10 ppm (parts per million) cannot be sold in the United States, nor is it permitted to be shipped into this country; it is a “prohibited” item and is subject to being seized by the United States Customs.

References:

Absinthe Online
Absinthe Buyer’s Guide
Facts and Trivia About Absinthe
Le Fee Verte

Happy National Absinthe Day!!

***

March 3, 1817 – Congress Provides for Reports of Supreme Court Decisions

As Harvard Law Professor Richard J. Lazarus pointed out in “The (Non)Finality of Supreme Court Opinions,” 128 Harvard Law Review 540, 2014:

According to the Supreme Court, “[o]nly the bound volumes of the United States Reports contain the final, official text of [the Court’s] opinions.” Those volumes are published several years after the original opinion announcements. For instance, the Court handed down its final merits decisions of the October Term 2007 on June 26, 2008. The last volume of the corresponding set of United States Reports, including those final decisions, was not published until five years later. [citations omitted]”

But at least the process is now routinized. In the early years of the Court, not all rulings were reported, and those that were would be re-created from the notes the Reporter took, plus any notes the Justice provided or that other attorneys provided. Moreover, without official records, the reporter could take liberties in his interpretation. Lazarus observed, “The potential for divergence between the Court’s orally announced ruling and the reporter’s subsequent written opinion was great. . . . “

Alexander J. Dallas, 1st Supreme Court Reporter

Law Professor Edward A. Hartnett, writing in “A Matter of Judgment, Not a Matter of Opinion,” NYU Law Review, Vol. 74:123, 1999, points out:

[The reporters] exercised their discretion in deciding what Court opinions or portions thereof to publish. The opinions that did appear in the unofficial reporters were often inaccurate due to delay and expense in reporting. Such failings may have been ‘inherent in a system dedicated to the preservation of opinions… often extemporaneously delivered from only the most rudimentary notes.’ [citing Craig Joyce, “The Rise of the Supreme Court Reporter An Institutional Perspective on Marshall Court Ascendancy, 83 Mich. L Rev. 1291, 1304-05, 1312 (1985), in discussing the work of Reporters Alexander Dallas and William Cranch]”

Professor Hartnett avers that the reliability of the reporting of Supreme Court opinions improved after the appointment of Henry Wheaton as the official reporter. As part of an effort to improve speed and accuracy, the Justices promised Wheaton “any written opinions they might prepare, or notes they might make in connection with their oral opinions.'” Nevertheless, Wheaton still used editorial discretion in deciding which opinions to publish and which to omit, and his volumes did not enjoy wide circulation.

William Cranch, 2nd Supreme Court Reporter

Congress attempted to remedy the problem by the passage of an Act at ch.63, §1, 3 Stat. 376 on this date in history, March 3, 1817. The “Act to provide for reports of the decisions of the Supreme Court” not only stipulated that a reporter would be appointed and paid an annual compensation, but added:

The said compensation shall not be paid unless the said reporter shall print and publish, or cause to be printed and published, the decisions of said court, made during the time he shall act as such reporter, within six months after such decisions shall be made, and shall deliver eighty copies of the decisions, so printed and published, to the Secretary of State, without any expense to the United States, and which copies shall be distributed as follows, to wit….”

(A long list ensues, at the completion of which the Act states that “the residue of said copies shall be deposited in, and become part of, the library of Congress.”)

Henry Wheaton, 3rd Supreme Court Reporter

The current version of the law relating to SCOTUS decision reporting can be found at 28 U.S. Code § 411 – Supreme Court reports; printing, binding, and distribution:

(a) The decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States shall be printed, bound, and distributed in the preliminary prints and bound volumes of the United States Reports as soon as practicable after rendition, to be charged to the proper appropriation for the judiciary. The number and distribution of the copies shall be under the control of the Joint Committee on Printing.
(b) Reports printed prior to June 12, 1926, shall not be furnished the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, or the Secretary of the Air Force.
(c) The Director of the Government Publishing Office, or other printer designated by the Supreme Court of the United States, upon request, shall furnish to the Superintendent of Documents the reports required to be distributed under the provisions of this section.”

Review of “Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law” by Preet Bharara

Preet Bharara served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) from 2009 to 2017. In that position, as the New York Times noted, Bharara “made a name for himself as one of the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime.” During his tenure, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the SDNY prosecuted nearly 100 Wall Street executives for insider trading and other offenses. He reached historic settlements and fines with the four largest banks in the United States, and closed multibillion-dollar hedge funds for activities including insider trading.

Nevertheless, in March, 2017, he and 45 other United States attorneys around the country were abruptly told to resign by President Trump. This book is not about President Trump, however, nor about the decision by Trump to fire Bharara. Rather, this very entertaining book provides an overview of the criminal justice system by offering fascinating anecdotes about famous cases that went through Bharara’s office.

For those who love “true crime” podcasts or even “Law and Order,” this book will not disappoint.

The book is divided into four sections: Inquiry, Accusation, Judgment, and Punishment. Bharara has two main underlying themes. One is that all of the actors involved, on both sides of the law, are human beings, and have human needs, and make human mistakes. Another, but not unrelated to the first, is that rapport works better than coercion and brutality – especially in the information gathering stages, and that when the prosecution shows respect to the identity and needs of a perpetrator, it is infinitely more fruitful. [Or as my parents used to admonish me (uselessly, it’s sad to say), “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”]

The chapter on methods of interrogation is especially good at illustrating that point. Bharara contends that whether interrogations are done in peacetime or war, or on criminals or terrorists, some methods work consistently better than others. For example, Bharara provides evidence that the notorious torture of alleged terrorists by the CIA produced very little useful information. On the other hand, he maintains, kindness, empathy, and building relationships, rather than brute force, have proven effective in getting people to talk. What most perpetrators want, Bharara argues, is to be respected for who they are and to get to tell their own story, rather than having lawyers or media place them in unflattering boxes. Treat them like human beings, Bharara says, and they will start providing names, connections, and background. The least likely to talk or flip? Surprisingly, Bharara writes, it’s not Islamic terrorists as many people would guess, but police. Their code of silence, preventing the police from incriminating other officers for their wrongdoings, is a harder barrier to crack than even the Mafia’s Law of Omertà – the code of honor that places importance on non-cooperation with outsiders, especially those in law enforcement.

Some of the stories are shocking, and all are thought-provoking. Perhaps the saddest anecdotes come out of Bharara’s coverage of Rikers Island, in the section on punishment.

Rikers Island in New York is one of the world’s largest correctional institutions. Approximately 85% of those detained there have not been convicted of a crime, but rather are awaiting trial, either held without bail or remanded in custody. The others in the prison population have been convicted and are serving short sentences. But regardless of why they are in Rikers, prisoners must deal with shocking brutality. Reports indicate Rikers is notorious for violence within the walls — a place where inmates attack inmates, inmates attack correction officers, and correction officers attack inmates. An exposé in Mother Jones found:

“When it comes to ignominies, New York City’s island jail complex has it all: inmate violence, staff brutality, rape, abuse of adolescents and the mentally ill, and one of the nation’s highest rates of solitary confinement. Rikers, which hosts 10 separate jails, has been the target of dozens of lawsuits and numerous exposés. Yet the East River island remains a dismal and dangerous place for the 12,000 or more men, women, and children held there on any given day—mostly pretrial defendants who can’t make bail and nonviolent offenders with sentences too short to ship them upstate.”

Coming up with fair methods of punishment, Bharara writes, remains a troublesome problem with no clear solutions.

Evaluation: This book is rich with informative and thought-provoking observations about doing justice, and how much “being human” sometimes helps and sometimes interferes. Bharara has a good sense of humor, skill as a raconteur, and a great deal to offer through his experiences as U.S. Attorney. I did not expect this book to be so engaging, but was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed it and learned from it.

Rating: 4/5

Published in hardcover by Knopf Publishing Group, 2019

A Few Notes on the Audio Production:

I listened to this book on audio. The author narrates the book in his distinctive clipped speaking style. But he comes across as warm, intelligent, thoughtful, and caring, and dedicated to treating everyone – no matter the crime – with consideration and respect.

Published unabridged on 9 CDs (approximately 10 1/2 listening hours) by Penguin Random House Audio, 2019

February 7, 1971 – Swiss Women Get the Right to Vote

An article in National Geographic by Robert Krulwich reports that men began voting in Switzerland in 1291. Women had to wait another seven centuries for that right.

Finally on February 7, 1971, this day in history, and 53 years after Germany, 52 after Austria, 27 after France and 26 after Italy, Swiss women were granted the right to vote and stand for election. The Swiss Parliament website noted that “Women’s associations in Switzerland had had to pressure the Federal Council and work tirelessly to obtain a majority vote among the People and the cantons.”

In 1928 Swiss suffragettes used a model of a snail to protest at the slow pace of political emancipation, via UK Independent

In 1968, the Federal Council of Switzerland had considered signing the European Convention on Human Rights, without accepting the clause concerning women’s political rights. In the face of massive protests from women’s associations, the Swiss government organized a new vote on women’s suffrage, which saw women finally victorious. At the start of the 1971 winter session, the first female members of parliament took their seats, each being welcomed with a rose.

Krulwich writes:

The Swiss move very slowly. That’s their way. For centuries, husbands had legal authority over their wives’ savings. ‘In the 1970s, I had a bank account in my son’s name. I tried to go and buy something, and they told me I needed the signature of my man,’ a woman told London’s Independent. She was furious. But that was the law. It wasn’t changed until a national referendum in 1985, and the vote that time was a squeaker: a 4 percent plurality.”

November 6, 1646 – Massachusetts Enacts Punishment for Bad 16-Year-Old Boys

On this day in history, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay enacted the following law, known as “The Stubborn Child Law”:

If a man have a stubborn or rebellious son, of sufficient years and understanding (viz.) sixteen years of age, which will not obey the voice of his Father, or the voice of his Mother, and that when they have chastened him will not harken unto them: then shall his Father and Mother being his natural parents, lay hold on him, and bring him to the Magistrates assembled in Court and testify unto them, that their son is stubborn and rebellious and will not obey their voice and chastisement, but lives in sundry notorious crimes, such a son shall be put to death.”

This law, John R. Sutton writes in “Stubborn Children: Law and the Socialization of Deviance in the Puritan Colonies,” Family Law Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring 1981), pp. 31-64, is regarded as the progenitor of modern juvenile justice statutes. Thereafter, “stubborn child laws” were enacted in Connecticut in 1650, Rhode Island in 1668, and New Hampshire in 1679. Sutton adds further that “By legitimizing state intervention into the family, the law appear to foreshadow the 1838 case of Ex parte Crouse, which introduced the doctrine of parens patriae into American law, and which has never been entirely repudiated.” (You can read more about the Crouse case, in which the court ruled that the judicial system had the right to assist families with troubled youth, here.)

Sutton also makes the case that the law was part of a wider set of laws enacted at the time that attempted to codify the concept of the Puritan covenant, since in New England, religion was “the organizing principle of social life”:

As it became realized in the form of a legal order, then, the covenant became a true contract, divine in significance, which bound leaders and followers, officials and citizens, parents and children into an interlocking system of mutual obligations.”

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Sutton notes, Puritan ideas about the family, childhood, and deviance “were transformed and brought to fruition by Calvinist-dominated movements for social reform.

The Stubborn Child Law remained on the statute books of Massachusetts for over three hundred years. The legislature eventually dropped death as a penalty and broadened the law to include daughters. But the law was not repealed until 1973. Nevertheless, a version of it remains, in Section 53 “Penalty for Certain Offenses” of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts laws, which defines offenses as:

Section 53. (a) Common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy another person, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behavior, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses, and persons guilty of indecent exposure shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 6 months, or by a fine of not more than $200, or by both such fine and imprisonment. (b) Disorderly persons and disturbers of the peace, for the first offense, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $150. On a second or subsequent offense, such person shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 6 months, or by a fine of not more than $200, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

In addition, juvenile law even outside of Massachusetts is still harsh. The United States stands alone as the only nation that sentences juveniles to life without parole for crimes committed before turning 18. The Sentencing Project reviews the Supreme Court cases on the subject here.

June 28, 2012 – SCOTUS Upholds the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act

In March 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ACA. It immediately faced challenges from conservatives, and objections made it to the Supreme Court. On this day in history, however, the Supreme Court upheld the law in a 5-4 decision (with Chief Justice Roberts joining the liberals on the Court), ruling in National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. (648 F. 3d 1235) that the requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty was authorized by Congress’s power to levy taxes.

The Supreme Court was also asked to address the provision of the act that provided for expanding Medicaid eligibility to 133% of poverty level and provided federal funding to states for this expansion. It directed that states that did not expand eligibility would lose all of their Medicaid funding. The Court decided in a 7–2 vote that states could not be coerced to expand their Medicaid offerings. However, the Court did find that if a state chose to expand coverage, it must accept all of the federal regulations attached to that expansion. States cannot pick and choose how they expand.

President Obama addressed the nation following the decision, averring that the Court “reaffirmed a fundamental principle that here in America — in the wealthiest nation on Earth – no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.”

He added:

Still, I know the debate over this law has been divisive.  I respect the very real concerns that millions of Americans have shared.  And I know a lot of coverage through this health care debate has focused on what it means politically. 

Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics.  I did it because I believed it was good for the country.  I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.”

You can read all of his remarks here.

When President Trump took office on January 20, 2017, he appeared to be determined to reverse every program enacted by Obama. The very day President Trump was sworn in he signed an executive order instructing administration officials “to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act, while Congress got ready to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature health law.

After the Republican Congress could not agree on how to dismantle the ACA, Trump and his administration, as NPR reported, “shifted to a piecemeal approach as they tried to take apart the ACA.”

In May, 2020, as reported by the Washington Post, Trump told reporters:

We want to terminate health care under Obamacare . . . Obamacare, we run it really well. . . . But running it great, it’s still lousy health care.”

Finally, in September 2020,

President Trump capped his fruitless four-year journey to abolish and replace the Affordable Care Act by signing an executive order . . . that aims to enshrine the law’s most popular feature while pivoting away from a broader effort to overhaul the nation’s health insurance system.”

Somewhat amusingly, Trump added:

The historic action I’m taking today includes the first-ever executive order to affirm it is the official policy of the United States government to protect patients with preexisting conditions,’ Trump said, despite the fact such protections are already enshrined in law. ‘We’re making that official. We’re putting it down in a stamp, because our opponents, the Democrats, like to constantly talk about it.’”